Horton's Historical Articles
by Gerald Horton
TIMELINE FOR 1779
Jan 1779 Refugees of raids.
Families who had been burned out of their homes and farms in the raids of 1778 sought refuge at Schenectady as well as Forts Herkimer and Dayton. Returns in the Clinton Papers showed 164 persons from Cherry Valley and 80 from Springfield were located in Schenectady while 700 were at Fort Herkimer or Fort Dayton. The refugees had no food and only the clothes on their backs. The situation prompted Abraham Yates, the local militia commander, to write Governor Clinton stating, “God Knows where it will End; must it not very Soon Create a Famine?”
Apr 14, 1779 Refugee fund.
New York State established a fund of 2,250 pounds for sufferers of , “Cobus Kill, Cherry Valley, German Flats, Andrews Town, and Springfield who were incapable of gaining a livelihood.”
Apr 21, 1779 Onondaga villages destroyed.
An army of some 558 men led by Rebel Colonel Goose Van Schaick attacked and destroyed three Onondaga Indian villages just south and west of present day Onondaga Lake. The army killed 12 to 15 Onondagas and took thirty some prisoners (mostly women). This was the opening clash in the Rebel campaign against the Iroquois in 1779.
Jun 1779 British land force at Penobscot Bay.
A small British fleet (three ships) landed seven hundred soldiers on the Bagaduce (present day Castine) peninsula in the Maine District of Massachusetts (Maine was not a state until 1820). The British hoped to establish a base from which to better deal with Rebel privateers and develop a refuge for Loyalists. Construction on a fort (George) was begun at the site.
The State of Massachusetts set about establishing a naval force to drive the British from the peninsula. It was to be an amphibious operation and consisted of forty vessels (including three Continental Naval vessels), nearly 2,000 seamen and marines, one hundred artillerymen, and 870 militia. Commodore Dudley Saltonstall was in command with General Solomon Lovell in charge of the ground troops. Paul Revere (the silversmith) was in charge of the artillery. The Penobscot Expedition, as this force was known, sailed from Boston in July. It was the largest Rebel naval force of the Revolutionary War.
Jul 15, 1779 Battle of Stony Point, NY.
In late May 1779, a British expedition had moved up the Hudson River from New York City. They occupied Stony Point on the west bank as well as Verplancks Point directly across on the east bank. General George Washington had moved any available troops he had into the area to counter an expected British attack on West Point.
Washington ordered General Anthony Wayne to mount a night attack and regain Stony Point for the Rebels. At 11:30pm on July 15th, Wayne began his attack and by dawn had secured the battle site. Wayne reported 15 killed and 83 wounded. The British commander reported 20 killed, 74 wounded, 58 missing, and 472 captured.
The operation had little strategic value, but it was a morale builder for the Rebel army.
Jul 20, 1779 Attack on Minisink.
The settlement of Minisink, that was ten miles west of Goshen, NY, was attacked by Joseph Brant. Brant’s force consisted of sixty Indians and twenty-seven Loyalists. The primary aim of the attack was to obtain provisions.
During the attack, the schoolmaster, Jeremiah Van Auken was killed along with three others. Van Auken had told the children in the school to run, but Brant came upon them. He placed his paint mark on the girls’ dresses to keep them from harm. The girls sat and spread their dresses over their male schoolmates protecting them as well. Most of the other members of the settlement made it to the protection of the fort.
Brant’s force laid waste to the settlement except for the fort. Ten houses, eleven barns, a church, a gristmill, as well as stores of hay and grain were destroyed. They took three prisoners including two young boys.
On July 21st, militia from Goshen caught up with Brant’s force as they were driving cattle across a ford on the Delaware River. A battle raged for four hours until Brant counter attacked. The militia retreated but Brant’s men showed no quarter. All wounded and other prisoners taken were killed and scalped. About forty militia were killed while Brant suffered three men killed and ten wounded.
One story that came out of this battle was that of John Wood. He was about to be killed when he gave the Master Mason’s sign of distress. Brant, being a Mason, saw this and saved Wood’s life.
Jul 25, 1779 Siege of Fort George.
The Penobscot Expedition (see Jun entry above) reached the Bagaduce Peninsula. Three British sloops guarded the entrance to the harbor. Attempts to dislodge the three ships were ineffective and General Lovell and his militia were put ashore under a formidable precipice. The militia finally made their way to the British fort. Unable to convince Saltonstall to engage the vastly inferior British ships and clear a way for the remaining land forces to storm Fort George, Lovell and his troops initiated a siege of the fort.
Aug 13, 1779 Penobscot Expedition ends in disaster.
A British relief fleet of sixteen vessels arrived at Penobscot Bay and trapped the Rebel fleet in the bay. Commodore Saltonstall retreated up the Penobscot River thus insuring the Rebel fleet’s demise. All the Rebel vessels, with the exception of one captured by the British, were beached and burned by their crews resulting in the greatest American naval disaster prior to Pearl Harbor.
All surviving Rebel forces retreated through the woods and down the coastline to Boston.
Aug 22, 1779 Sullivan Expedition consolidates at Tioga, NY.
In a move to punish the Iroquois for their part in the raids of 1778, General George Washington initiated a campaign into the Iroquois Territory. General John Sullivan led the campaign with General James Clinton, the brother of New York Governor George Clinton, as second in command.
Sullivan started out in Easton Pennsylvania and marched into the Wyoming Valley and up the Susquehanna River. Clinton started in Canajoharie and then dammed Lake Otsego. This allowed his more than 220 batteaux to easily float down the Susquehanna once the dam was removed. The two divisions of the expedition destroyed any Indian settlements they encountered along their routes of march.
The expedition became one force when they linked up at Tioga. From Tioga, the army of approximately 5,000 men, moved northwest into Iroquois lands.
British General Frederick Haldimand, Governor General of Quebec, did not see this move coming. He held back any troops believing the Rebels intended to attack Quebec. General Washington had sent Major Hazard to Connecticut with several companies of men to make it appear Hazard was ordered to start constructing a military road leading to Quebec. Haldimand believed the ruse and held back his troops in anticipation of an attack up the Champlain Valley. The Iroquois thus had to bear the full burden of their alliance with the king.
Aug 1779 English coast attacked.
Rebel Naval Captain John Paul Jones continues to attack English coastal towns and harass shipping.
Aug 29, 1779 Battle of Newtown.
Loyalist Major John Butler was dispatched from Fort Niagara to aid the Indians in trying to stop the Sullivan Expedition. Joseph Brant and his volunteers also joined the Indians opposing the threat to their lands. After seeing the size of the force they faced, both Butler and Brant counseled for harassing tactics against the Rebels. The Indians took a firm stance that they wanted to stand and fight the Rebels.
The Indians picked a spot approximately six miles southeast of present day Elmira, NY to set up an ambush. The Rebel scouts spotted the ambush and General Sullivan moved to flank the position. The combination of artillery fire and overwhelming force broke up the ambush and the Indians retreated.
Sep 15, 1779 Sullivan Expedition returns to Pennsylvania.
After destroying a large Iroquois village near present day Geneseo, NY, General Sullivan turned his force around and returned to Pennsylvania. He considered his task accomplished. In his report to General Washington and the Continental Congress, Sullivan stated there was “not a single village left in the country of the five nations.” He claimed to have destroyed forty villages, 160,000 bushels of corn, as well as numerous other crops and orchards. The campaign was judged a great success by Congress.
Not all, however, were so sure the campaign was a success. Rebel Major Fogg wrote in his journal a very prophetic observation: “The nests are destroyed, but the birds are still on the wing.”
Sep 21, 1779 Iroquois refugees at Fort Niagara.
Over five thousand Indians descended on Fort Niagara. The Indians blamed the British for their misfortunes and the loss of their villages to the Sullivan Expedition. They expected the British to provide food, shelter, and clothing. Corn and other supplies were procured from Quebec and Detroit.
Sep 23, 1779 John Paul Jones’ famous sea battle.
Rebel Naval Captain Jones’ ship the Bonhomme Richard defeated the British frigate Serapis. The Bonhomme Richard is so battered that it sinks, but Jones sails to France on the badly damaged Serapis.
Oct 22, 1779 Bill of Attainder.
The New York State legislature passed the Bill of Attainder. To be attainted meant the person named was declared outlaw with loss of civil rights and forfeiture of any property. Fifty-nine prominent Loyalists were named in the bill. Among them were Sir John and Guy Johnson, Daniel Claus, as well as John and Walter Butler.New York State realized $3.6 Million from the sale of the confiscated property.